Comparing Kentucky's 2013 Recruiting Class to Michigan's Fab 5
Kentucky has what is already being referred to as the greatest recruiting class of all time and the only group in the conversation (at this point) is Michigan's Fab Five.
It all seems a bit premature considering UK's incoming freshmen have yet to play a game as Wildcats, but their individual rankings back up the statement on paper.
John Calipari signed five players ranked in the top nine of Rivals.com's rankings and six ranked in the top 19. He also added two in-state recruits. On paper, it is the greatest class of all time, and it could get even better if top prospect Andrew Wiggins picks UK.
Even with all those paper stars, honestly, we should probably wait a few years before we declare them the "greatest of all time." But that's no fun, huh?
So, let's size up the best five future 'Cats against the Fab Five position by position.
To get an idea of how good each player will be, I went back through Rivals.com's rankings and found the last five players at each position who were ranked in the same spot. For instance, since Julius Randle is the top-ranked power forward, his player comparison is the top-ranked power forward in the 2008-2012 classes.
Note: The high school rankings of each member of the Fab Five come from this article.
Jalen Rose's HS Ranking: No. 6 in 1991 class
Andrew Harrison's Ranking: No. 5 overall/No. 1 point guard
Harrison Player Comparison: Kris Dunn, Marquis Teague, Josh Selby, John Wall and Jrue Holiday
Evaluating the Matchup: Looking at the last five top-ranking point guards, it's not a given that Andrew Harrison will be a star. Josh Selby is already out of the NBA and Providence's Kris Dunn averaged 5.7 points per game this past season as a freshman. To be fair, Rivals.com had Marcus Smart tabbed as a shooting guard, and he should have been the top point guard in the class as that's the position he's currently playing.
So let's be conservative and say Harrison ends up closer to a Marquis Teague or Jrue Holiday. Neither player was a star in his one year in college, but both were one-and-done prospects because of their potential. Teague had a quiet rookie season. Holiday is progressively improving in the pros, and at this point, his pro numbers look to be similar to Jalen Rose's pro production.
But how good Harrison ends up as a pro hardly matters here. Rose was instantly a star at Michigan, averaging 17.6 points per game and 4.0 assists as a freshman. He was a second-team All-American in 1994 as a junior when he averaged 19.9 points per game.
As for his pro career, Rose played 13 seasons in the NBA, and he led the Pacers in scoring in 2000 when they reached the NBA Finals.
When John Calipari has had a top point guard prospect—Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall, Brandon Knight and Teague—four out of the five thrived in his dribble-drive offense. Even if Harrison puts up big numbers, it's tough to envision he can match Rose's production in college.
Jimmy King's HS Ranking: No. 9 in 1991 class
Aaron Harrison's Ranking: No. 7 overall/No. 1 shooting guard
Harrison Player Comparison: Shabazz Muhammad, Austin Rivers, Reggie Bullock, Avery Bradley, DeMar DeRozan
Evaluating the Matchup: Aaron Harrison is the best natural scorer of Kentucky's incoming freshmen and it's likely he'll end up as one of the top scorers on the team. He can bulldoze his way into the paint or score from outside.
Jimmy King was also a good scorer, but he was never elite. He averaged 9.9 points per game as a freshman and topped out at 14.7 per game his senior season. King played only two seasons in the NBA.
The expectations are for Harrison to be a lottery pick after his freshman season—DraftExpress.com has him slated to go No. 10 in the 2014 NBA draft.
Harrison's potential wins out over King's solid college career.
Ray Jackson's HS Ranking: No. 84 in 1991 class
James Young's Ranking: No. 11 overall/No. 3 small forward
Young Player Comparison: Sam Dekker, DeAndre Daniels, Jelan Kendrick, Solomon Hill, Chris Singleton
Evaluating the Matchup: This could end up as a closer matchup someday, but from the high school rankings alone, Kentucky has the clear advantage.
All James Young has to do as a freshman to beat out Ray Jackson's freshman campaign is be a starter most of the season and receive consistent minutes. Jackson started only 15 games as a freshman and averaged 4.6 points in 17.4 minutes per game.
Jackson did have some success later on in his college career, averaging 15.8 points as a senior; however, he's the only member of the Fab Five who did not make the NBA.
It's not a given that Young will make it looking at his player comparison. Only Chris Singleton is currently in the NBA, but it's a good bet at least two others (between Sam Dekker, DeAndre Daniels and Solomon Hill) will eventually play in the league.
Young is a 6'6" athletic lefty, and he certainly looks the part of a solid scorer on the college level and eventual pro. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.
Chris Webber's HS Ranking: No. 1 in 1991 class
Julius Randle's Ranking: No. 2 overall/No. 1 power forward
Randle Player Comparison: Anthony Bennett, Anthony Davis, Enes Kanter, DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe
Evaluating the Matchup: This would be a fun position battle if we could put UK's freshmen in a time machine and let them square off against the Fab Five as freshmen.
Chris Webber was a freak in college. The assumption is that Julius Randle will be the same, and like Webber, he's the biggest star of this class.
DraftExpress.com predicts Randle will be the second pick in the 2014 NBA draft. Webber was the first pick in 1993. He was a first-team All-American in 1993. He also made five NBA All-Star teams and was one of the best players of his generation.
Randle has the potential to be a star, but he has to produce before anyone seriously debates this matchup.
Juwan Howard's HS Ranking: No. 3 in 1991 class
Dakari Johnson's Ranking: No. 9 overall/No. 2 center
Johnson Player Comparison: Isaiah Austin, Rakeem Christmas, Fab Melo, Tiny Gallon, Ty Walker
Evaluating the Matchup: Juwan Howard was solid as a freshman and you could say the same about his entire professional career, which amazingly is still going at 40.
Howard averaged 11.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per game as a freshman. Once Chris Webber left after his sophomore season, Howard became the star for Michigan and averaged 20.8 points and 9.0 boards as a junior. He was drafted fifth overall in 1994.
Johnson's future is murky when you look at how the No. 2 centers have fared the last five years. Fab Melo and Isaiah Austin are the best two. Austin is very skilled and had a solid freshman year at Baylor (13.0 points and 8.3 rebounds per game), but he'll be a project once he bolts for the NBA. Melo played in only six games for the Boston Celtics this past season as a rookie.
There's a good chance Johnson will come off the bench as a freshman and play behind Willie Cauley-Stein. Howard came off the bench in only three games as a freshman, and Johnson will need to have an impressive career to someday win this battle.
History has a way of hyping the past, but it is warranted for the Fab Five. Michigan made the national championship game starting five freshmen, a feat that is not likely to ever happen again. Even if Kentucky makes it this season, chances are John Calipari is going to have at least one non-freshman in his lineup.
What Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard accomplished as pros also adds to the Fab Five's legacy. Kentucky's freshmen could be dominant this season and win a national championship, which would give them legitimate claim to "greatest class ever assembled." But in 10 years depending on their pro success, perceptions could change.
John Calipari put together one amazing class. Based on rankings alone, it's the best.
But until the Kentucky class produces on the court, the title of "greatest recruiting class of all time" still belongs to the Fab Five. For now.